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Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  100 ratings  ·  25 reviews
On a windy night in 1937, a seventeen-year-old German naval sub-cadet is wandering along the seawall when he stumbles upon a gang of ruffians beating up a tramp, whose life he saves. The man is none other than spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Canaris adopts the young man and dubs him “Cesare” after the character in the silent fi ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published January 7th 2020 by Bellvue Literary Press
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Jerome Charyn takes an original and imaginative approach to a subject that receives endless attention, WW2, writing a literary noir thriller and a love story set amidst the insanity and madness of Nazi Germany, set in a Berlin where the ghosts of dead Jews walk, amidst Jewish Jazz and the White Mouse, and where even the angels weep at the horror and tragedy. There is a fever and chaos as the story unfolds of the Erik Holdermann removed from a Berlin orphanage by philanthropist Baron Wilfred von ...more
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edelweiss
"They would embroider, multiply, manufacture, until I was their Caligari with his slave, Cesare, who strangled enemies of the Reich at will and then returned to his coffin at Tipitz-Ufer." ~Admiral William Canaris in Cesare by Jerome Charyn

From the beginning, I knew I had entered a noir world of tales and terror where fantasy and fact spun a deeper journey into the known, for surely nothing can convey truth better than fiction.

Reading Cesare by Jerome Charyn I knew I had to see The Cabinet of Dr
Described as “a novel of war-torn Berlin”, Cesare’s blend of historical fiction and dark fairytale put me in mind of Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, especially as we first meet its protagonist, Erik Holdermann, as a young boy.   Rescued by Jewish Baron von Hecht and his daughter, Lisalein, Erik immediately forms an attachment to Lisalein that as time goes on becomes an obsession, even after she becomes the wife of an SS officer. She remains an enigmatic character throughout. “She was Mata Hari one ...more
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Jerome Charyn has built his career writing historical fiction. His signature approach is to pose thought experiments wherein he places key historical figures alongside intriguing fictional characters. These “what if’s” reveal possibilities that sometimes emphasize little known facets of the historical record. In CESARE, Charyn gives us a chilling thriller that suggests Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the Nazi military intelligence (Abwehr) director, may have been a closet subversive responsible for sav ...more
Paula Lyle
Feb 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
Nazi noir. This is a bleak look at Germany under Hitler during the second World War. A funhouse mirror showing the warped men and women who served the Third Reich and those that opposed it.
Brutal and fascinating.
I really enjoyed this book tremendously - I love to read books that are based on the war years and this book fit the bill. I would totally recommend this book and I was hooked after the first page. Once you start reading, you can't stop! ...more
Sue Sansone
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
the writer's style is first person, i got so involved in the two main character Cesare and Lisalein! I have read so many WWII histroy novels and I learn something new each time. This book is about the merging of nazis and jews to fiht the common enemy. The final Solution. ...more
Jan 21, 2020 rated it liked it
A dark, delirious book ostensibly about an Abwehr assassin working in Berlin in the middle of the Second World War and the strange, subversive woman he is in love with. Too full of absurd coincidences and credulity-stretching narrative shifts, but the intense delirium of the novel's atmosphere partially makes up for these shortcomings.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2020
Cesare is a story of love and war in Nazi Germany. One evening Cesare, a lowly naval sub-cadet, stumbles upon a man he thinks is a tramp. Cesare saves him from being beaten by thugs and later discovers this tramp is actually the chief of German military intelligence, Wilhelm Canaris. This one act of kindness changes Cesare’s life forever.

Here’s where it gets interesting, but also a bit confusing. Yes, Canaris is chief of Abwehr, the German military intelligence, but he uses this position to unde
Oct 23, 2019 marked it as to-read
PW Starred: "Charyn’s spectacular latest (after The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King) captures the madness of Nazi Germany in a fiercely inventive merging of fiction and fact. Erik Holdermann’s parents both die before his ninth birthday in 1928, after which he is raised in a Berlin orphanage. When philanthropist Wilfrid von Hecht and his daughter, Lisa, make a visit to the institution, Erik is smitten by Lisa, a “mischling,” or partially Jewish, teenager a few years his senior. Their lives ...more
Phi Beta Kappa Authors
Jerome Charyn
ΦBK, Columbia University, 1959

From the publisher: On a windy night in 1937, a seventeen-year-old German naval sub-cadet is wandering along the seawall when he stumbles upon a gang of ruffians beating up a tramp, whose life he saves. The man is none other than spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Canaris adopts the young man and dubs him “Cesare” after the character in the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for his ability to break
Francis X DuFour
Ghoulishly fascinating novel.

What a collection of misfits, but closer examination reveals everybody in the book, no matter how minor their part, is a misfit. A tale of love during mankind’s most evil period of history, it gives hope of a happy ending that you know can’t ever happen.
Tony Laplume
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Through most of Cesare I wondered if Jerome Charyn was right to write a Jerome Charyn book about Nazi Germany. By the end I found that it was absolutely right. It may be his best book. It may be the book he was born to write, after fifty years toil.

I first read Charyn very late into his career, Johnny One-Eye, a picaresque set during the American Revolution. I ended up diving into Charyn’s backlog and discovering many treasures, and though I have really still only scratched the surface, it left
Mar 24, 2020 rated it liked it
In pre-war Germany, young Erik Holderman has had a mean childhood as you would expect for a half-Jewish orphan. But his life takes a turn when he comes to the rescue of a man getting beaten by a group of thugs, for he has saved the spymaster Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. "Uncle Willi" loves his country but as for Hitler, not so much. The nazi party has come to control the nation, full-scale war has begun, and European Jews are being rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. Erik, now known by s ...more
Ronald Roseborough
Cesare, Caesar, a name that evokes an image of the all conquering hero of ancient Rome. German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris dubbed him such when the seventeen year old naval cadet saved Canaris’ life. Ever since, Cesare has been groomed to do what he does best. At times he steals through the night saving Jews from the Nazi death squads, gaining the reputation of a golem protecting his people. At other times he brings death to those who would harm his mentor Admiral Canaris. Like his mentor, he wears ...more
Jan 10, 2021 rated it liked it
Charyn has a unique narrative style. He is not a slave to making timelines and locations flow with precision and so "Cesare" can travel from situation to situation as suits the characters and their ultimate destinies. Rather than fully drawing in a reader, "Cesare's" characters take turns telling a story of Berlin and elsewhere during the Third Reich. They are a conflicted and damaged bunch, some spies, some Nazis, some Jews or half-Jews, all living in a tangle of grey areas; none of them fully ...more
Philipa Coughlan
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sometimes chaotic often disturbing this is an extraordinary read from an author who clearly likes to stretch not only his imagination but the ability of his readers to keep up with his plots. I had no idea about some of the things mentioned surrounding the Nazi regime when most of us feel we know most of the horrors already. That Cesare and Caligari emanate from the first real horror film in 1919 Germany also add to the nightmarish and fable like telling of this tale.
Erik guides us through his t
Robin Price
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
After Germany's defeat in the Great War and the last Kaiser's exile to Holland a darkness descends. Jerome Charyn's novel takes one to the history of those years combining fact and fantasy. This is a dark and disturbing novel that looks at the corruption and violence of the Nazi regime through the eyes of its central characters. For once those infamous Nazi celebrities - Hitler, Goebbels and Goring - are mere bit players.
Cesare is a somnambulist and a magician. His friendship with Admiral Canari
Nov 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Not everyone in Germany supported Hitler’s policies about the Jewish population, even those who otherwise supported the war. One such person is the hero of Jerome Charyn’s unusual and chaotic “Cesare” (Bellevue Literary Press). Erik Holdermann (also known as Cesare) is not Jewish, but, as a child, was helped by Jewish prostitutes who arranged for him to live safely in a Jewish orphanage.
See the rest of my review at
Erin Clark
Jul 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very dark tale of Nazi Germany and all it's evil atrocities. I had a very hard time with this book, so much brutality and death. I think it is very well written but the subject matter and story itself are deeply disturbing. But is is WWII so I should not have been surprised. I learned even more about Nazi's and their craziness than I ever wanted to know. It's insane what war will do to people. Recommended if you have the stomach for it. ...more
Jun 04, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2021
Another book that sounded a lot more interesting than it turned out to be. Plot and characters were both rather absurd, and the whole thing just didn't grab me. Also, if you absolutely must scatter a downright ridiculous amount of random German words across the entire text at least make sure they're spelled correctly... ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Not as interesting as I hoped for. And not all that much about war-torn Berlin either. I found the focus on Jews who helped the Nazis informative, however the Canaris parts were a bit too bizarre and left me wondering if the reality portion of this work of fiction was more than minimal.
Exapno Mapcase
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lter
A noir story in the midst of World war II, Cesare takes the reader through war, struggles, and love triangle. It is both heart rendering and mind twisting.

Free review copy.
Greg Barron
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Always interesting, has literary merit, but I didn't always believe the plot. Worth a read though. ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was ok
This is a well written book, I liked the concept. I just couldn't care less about the characters and it was hard for me to get immersed in the plot. ...more
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Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With more than 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon calls him "one of the most important writers in American literature." New York Newsday hailed Charyn as "a contemporary American Balzac," and the L

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